As a resident of Orlando, Florida and former resident of Queens, New York, I understand that every city has three sides. The tourist side, the residential side, and the bad side. My first time going to Europe was scary. I had just turned sixteen and never had the freedom that wasn’t within one train stop from my house. My search history the week before I left was full of YouTube videos titled, “What I Hated About London/Paris/Barcelona,” news reports on Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks all over Europe and the weather.
It was my second day in Paris and I was dealing with my demons. Our group had decided to meet up across the street from the Eiffel tower, next to a carousel and mini souvenir shop. Everyone went about finding something to do in the meantime, and I found myself alone. My French was subpar, and my anxiety and depression were catching up to me.
I sat down on a bench with my back facing the sun and the Seine, I didn’t know what to do. I had no way to talk to my friends or family. For the first time ever, I was actually alone. I couldn’t talk to anyone that I thought would understand what I was feeling.
The frigid, March air was letting go of me as the clouds made their way west. I crossed my ankles and watched the carousel. A girl about three years old was jumping off holding her father’s hand. They skipped to her mother, she sat on the bench adjacent to mine. They muttered to each other in Arabic, not taking their eyes off their daughter.
A part of me was nostalgic. I missed those days in New York when my parents would take me into Manhattan. They’d mutter to each other in patois and never take their eyes off me. But another part of me felt soothed. There were families here, casually under the Eiffel tower. Dealing with day-to-day family life. And there I was, listening to the voices in my head instead of enjoying the fact that I was alone in Paris with freedom!
La petite looked up at me from her mother’s lap. I smiled at her before I decided to take a walk. A half an hour later, I was back on the same bench with a group of pigeons dancing around my feet, a box of soggy fries in my lap and a smile on my face.
I couldn’t outrun the demons on the corners of my mind, but I didn’t have to listen to them.
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